Malawi: The Forgotten of Africa, Wasting Away in Jails Without Trial

prison-africa001LILONGWE, Malawi – Since Nov. 10, 1999, Lackson Sikayenera has been incarcerated in Maula Prison, a dozen iron-roofed barracks set on yellow dirt and hemmed by barbed wire just outside Malawi’s capital city.

At Muala Prison in Malawi, the prisoners sleep on the floor, so tightly packed they cannot turn except en masse. Some cells hold 160 prisoners.

Prisoners take in the sun after being let out of their cells in the morning.

He eats one meal of porridge daily. He spends 14 hours each day in a cell with 160 other men, packed on the concrete floor, unable even to move. The water is dirty; the toilets foul. Disease is rife.

But the worst part may be that in the case of Mr. Sikayenera, who is accused of killing his brother, the charges against him have not yet even reached a court. Almost certainly, they never will. For sometime after November 1999, justice officials lost his case file. His guards know where he is. But for all Malawi’s courts know, he does not exist.

“Why is it that my file is missing?” he asked, his voice a mix of rage and desperation. “Who took my file? Why do I suffer like this? Should I keep on staying in prison just because my file is not found? For how long should I stay in prison? For how long?”

This is life in Malawi’s high-security prisons, Dickens in the tropics, places of cruel, but hardly unusual punishment. Prosecutors, judges, even prison wardens agree that conditions are unbearable, confinements intolerably long, justice scandalously uneven.

But by African standards, Malawi is not the worst place to do time. For many of Africa’s one million prison inmates, conditions are equally unspeakable – or more so. click for full story

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